| Sniffing a scandal
London, Jan. 3: The British home office is to conduct an inquiry into an alleged “sex-for-visas” scandal and the existence of an apparent policy of restricting the number of Indian applicants so as to allow in more east Europeans.
According to a whistleblower, Anthony Pamnani, 23, who has quit his job after working for the home office for four years, corrupt officials were willing to extend the visas of girls who were pretty and willing.
In return for sexual favours, it is alleged, their visas were extended. Brazilian girls were “treated best of all”, he has said.
Pamnani worked as an administrative officer at Lunar House, the home office’s immigration headquarters that deals with 300,000 cases a year.
He said he finally quit after bosses told staff to restrict migrants from India and let in more from eastern Europe. “I lost what remaining respect I had for the job,” he explained.
Immigration officers, who handle a vast array of cases from applicants from all over the world, have the power to decide whether to extend the visas of foreigners admitted on short-term work permits or as students.
Pamnani said it was the practice for photographs of “ugly” women to be pinned on a wall so that immigration officers could laugh at them.
In contrast, one of Pamnani’s colleagues was said to have commented after an encounter with a Turkish girl: “I gave her more than a visa extension, if you know what I mean.”
Some immigration officials gave out their phone numbers to women they considered “sexy”. Pamnani said: “One girl came in and told us an admin officer had visited her flat and they slept together. She got indefinite leave to stay.”
Occasionally, the system broke down if, for example, an official was unable to keep his side of the bargain because he had moved to another department.
“A Lebanese girl came into the office in a foul temper asking for one of the guys who worked there,” said Pamnani. “She told us that he’d promised to give her an extension to a visa and that they had slept together at her flat in Brighton.”
In response to Pamnani’s allegations, which were made to the Sun, the home office minister, Tony McNulty, launched the urgent inquiry and said: “These are serious allegations. Clearly I will not condone this type of behaviour.”
Keith Best, the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, a charity that helps refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants, told The Telegraph he was not surprised by the allegation that east Europeans were being preferred to workers from the Indian subcontinent.
He pointed out that 10 new countries, eight of them from east Europe ' the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia ' joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. Their nationals are now free to come into the UK without visas.
But the previous policy of recruiting Polish and Czech men for Bangladeshi restaurants had not worked “because they don’t stay for more than a week”, Best pointed out.
He asked for an independent inquiry to look into the alleged corruption in the home office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate as “the public would not have confidence in the home office investigating itself”.
Best said he was not willing to dismiss the “sex-for-visas” allegation as unfounded.
Best revealed his Immigration Advisory Service was due to open an office in Jalandhar because 30,000 applications are made from Punjab every year “for all sorts of reasons”. He also wanted to open offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.
Home office statistics studied by The Telegraph indicate that in 2000, the number accepted for settlement by nationality from the Indian subcontinent was 22,840. By 2004, this had risen to 25,280. But the corresponding figure from European countries outside the EU had shot up from 15,165 to 28,570.
There might be a good reason for this mismatch but some observers suspect that successive British governments feel ' especially after its experience with some British Muslims ' that it would be easier to integrate east Europeans into the cultural and social fabric of Britain.
The number of husbands allowed to enter Britain from the Indian subcontinent has declined from 6,240 in 2000 to 5,090 in 2004. In any case, the home office is keen to prevent “forced marriages” of British Asian girls to men from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Punjab. For east Europeans, the number of husbands has risen from 660 to 1,280 over the same period.